Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the “Spanish Flu” pandemic that killed as many as 100 million people — more than both world wars combined. But even in non-pandemic years the flu causes up to 500,000 deaths worldwide.
Despite the toll this virus takes, flu vaccines have remained virtually unchanged since their arrival in the 1940s. Today’s flu vaccines are effective about half of the time.
At University Research Park in Madison things are changing. A discovery in our laboratory at the Influenza Research Institute has shown that there is promise that flu vaccines can be made more broadly effective against multiple strains and sub-types.
This discovery is being developed at FluGen Inc., a clinical stage vaccine company I co-founded and is backed by an investor syndicate that includes Venture Investors, WARF, Knox, SWIB, WIP and Venture Management. FluGen hopes to prove in the next year or so that this vaccine is something special.
The concept is simple; when you are infected with influenza it is unlikely that you will get the flu again for at least the next couple of years. But most people don’t want to suffer the fever, chills, congestion and headaches from the real flu. That’s where FluGen’s work has proven so important.
The lead vaccine, M2SR or RedeeFlu™, tricks the body into believing it is infected without making you sick. How can this be done? By cutting a piece of the virus out so that it can enter your system but not multiply like a real virus would.
The beauty of the vaccine is that it can be delivered at the site where the flu normally infects people (the nose), which creates a natural infection without getting sick. The next time the flu tries to attack you, the body is ready for it.
The influenza virus changes so rapidly it is unlikely it will ever be eradicated like smallpox. But if RedeeFlu™ continues to perform well in clinical studies, flu may have finally met its match.